I consider my teen a relatively well-adjusted girl. She has (so far) been a low maintenance, low drama kid, for which I am extremely thankful. While she’s a good kid, she is not perfect. No kid is.
Last night she was on YouTube checking out some videos of her favorite bands. Some of the singers are gay or bisexual. Bela said she saw some nasty comments from a “hater,” so she responded. He was spewing anti-gay venom, so she defended “her” band. His response was to insult her and tell her she is “irrelevant” and that she should commit suicide.
Bela said, “That’s the first time anyone had ever said something like that to me, and it stung.” Of course it did! I can imagine her first reaction was shock. Nobody talks to her that way. Then she was probably mad and hurt. I can’t blame her for that! At least she was able to defend.
We talked about what he said. A lot. I pointed out that someone who goes straight to insults is exhibiting a shortage of logic to prove an argument. This guy also showed a lot of venom to a stranger for no reason. Can people not agree to disagree and move on? This guy didn’t. I explained that she should have just ignored his negative comments because his opinion has no relevance or importance in her life.
That kind of bullying is out of Bela’s experience. Let’s check out the flip side of that. Imagine, if you can, a child who hears nothing but venom. Those comments are eventually internalized. Think about kids who are consistently told they don’t matter, that they should die, that the world would be better without them in it. Teachers, are specific students coming to mind? If so, what are you going to do about it?
Every child needs a compassionate adult who will say, “You matter to me. You are important and loved.” If not, the negativity seed will take root and flourish. The insults will be taken to heart instead of discarded. I think every teacher should have a “no insults” policy. I saw it work in my classroom. Adults need to talk to students and let them know that every comment they make has an impact, either positive or negative. Students must be challenged to think about their actions and be held accountable.
Let’s make our kids confident enough to accept criticism, evaluate the source and discard or change accordingly. Insults do not count as a valid criticism. Criticism is to help people improve.